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Human Paragon 3
2010-04-28, 12:50 PM
This is part 2 of a weekly series of DM theory threads.

Juris's DMing Series Master TOC Thread (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?p=8392687#post8392687)

This week's topic is the DM's role in player engagement. Obviously, no DM can force a player to be engaged, but even one checked-out player can be a drag on the game. It's tempting to shift blame to the player(s) (they can't keep up with my plot!) or outside forces (it's not my game that's the problem, it's that the World Series is this week), and there is some credence to this, but it is first and foremost the DM's responsibility to keep the game fun for everybody, and if everybody's having fun, they will be engaged.

There are a number of tactics a savvy DM can employ to hook the players. One way is to give the player characters a personal stake in the story. Good players can give themselves a reason to adventure, but a good DM makes that job easy on the players. Most good roleplayers get a funny twang when they do something out of character because the story requires it. How do you mitigate this? Make the game feed on in-character decisions. Design problems and encounters that not only the players, but the player characters, want or need to solve. And make it so interesting, so exciting, and so fun that the players can't help to be hooked.

This thread's purpose will be to discuss how to put this concept into action. Anecdotes, advice, theories and complaints welcome.

BRC
2010-04-28, 01:08 PM
One of my rules for DMing is not to take things too seriously. You're players generally aren't as interested in the rules and minutia of the game as you are. Therefore, throw around refluffs and cool descriptions liberally.

For example, a recent adventure of mind had the PC's going up against a boss with rogue levels. One of the PC's, a rifle-wielding elf, gets sneak attacked by the boss and dropped down to 3 hit points.
Mechanically, he took a 5-foot step back, and used a ranged full attack, getting a crit and basically dropping the boss, but this particular player wasn't all that into the game, so I decided to mix things up.
Me: "Alright, that's a crit, hey Player, permission to make this awesome?"
Player: "Sure"
Me: "The boss stabs you with his cutlass. You grab his shoulders, lean back, and headbutt him."
Alright, so was turning "You shoot him with your rifle" into "You headbutt him" a mechanically sound refluff in any sense of the word? No, but it was awesome.


Another trick, let the PC's influence the campaign, not just in a "Do we save the duke or kill him so his brother can take the throne" way. Do it in a "The PC's like a random bit NPC, incorporate them more into the campaign".

Currently in this same campaign, a major character is a sailor on the PC's crew named Bill, he is an unbelievable bad-ass, and my players love him. He also started as a joke, the PC's ship was being attacked by a Zombie Pleasaur, I wasn't taking the fight seriously at all, it was just a couple rounds until another NPC showed up to blind the thing so the PC's could drive it off.

Anyway, the zombie rolled a critical failure on one of it's attacks, so I ruled that it tried to eat a sailor named Bill, who I ruled punched it in the face for 1d20 damage.


My final two tricks for keeping Players engaged. First, give them new toys to play with, secondly, keep them in the drivers seat.

Some of the most fun encounters I've run have been with the Players not controlling their own characters, but some pre-made NPC's for one adventure. Or I gave each 5th level character a 3rd level redshirt controlled by the same player. My players loved their mooks (simple fighter type characters) and got very attached to them. Yes there were now alot more characters involved in the fight, but my players were controlling plenty of them, and so had a great time. When my players went up against the boss who took down their mooks with a Fireball, they got really angry and worked hard to save them.

Now, had these NPC's stuck around, it probably wouldn't have been as fun, but when the players come to the table and, for one adventure, get some new toys to play with, it can be loads of fun.

valadil
2010-04-28, 01:10 PM
The best player engagement advice I can offer is to request backstory from them. The more the better. Then use that backstory. When a player writes an NPC, they're giving you a free plot hook that they've already bitten into. Why write your own NPCs when you can instead fill the world with player created characters? Less work for you and more fun for players.

Human Paragon 3
2010-04-28, 01:41 PM
I am also a huge proponent of having PCs supply their own backstories including NPCs.

I am lucky in that in my current campaign, all of my PCs have at least somebody in their backstories.

I have a dwarf fighter looking for his lost son, a half orc warblade who was taught the art of dueling by a drunken sword-for-hire, a monk who was sent away from the monestary by his wise master, a barbarian who was sold into slavery and forced by his cruel master to fight in arenas, and a wizard who is apprenticed to a great archmage.

All have NPCs in their backstories, all could supply great hooks. All generated by the players.

gdiddy
2010-04-28, 02:18 PM
I am a writer first and a GM second, so I like to bring my craft to the table with me. My descriptions are short, but effective. This lets the players fill in blanks. Often, players will talk about aspects of a mansion or city that I had not described, but have come into being by group consensus and creativity.

I take these group-created spaces and fill them will detail. This is less like writing and more like shading a drawing. Once in the aftermath of a player-started riot, I had a little boy not able to find his parents. I made the little bastard adorable. It was me finger-waving at the players, reminding them that real people were hurt in their actions.

I participate in fencing and horseback riding, so I can detail fight scenes and the way horses behave better than most.

Most importantly, I know my audience: I play with usually more women than men. Mostly because I am not looking for the same game many male roleplayers are. My game is not wish fulfillment. It is not an optimization race or characters that can solve any problem. My game's purpose is telling a story about cool exceptional characters and their relationships with each other and the world around them. I always tell my players this. The point of the game is for everyone to enjoy themselves. Making sure you start with the right group of people is why I'm really carefully who I game with.

Human Paragon 3
2010-04-28, 02:42 PM
Interesting side discussion:

How do you keep multiple players engaged when they each want something different?

TheThan
2010-04-28, 02:56 PM
I am also a huge proponent of having PCs supply their own backstories including NPCs.


don't you know, all adventurers are orphans with mysterious backstories that they will never reveal in order to protect themselves from their enemies.

valadil
2010-04-28, 03:06 PM
don't you know, all adventurers are orphans with mysterious backstories that they will never reveal in order to protect themselves from their enemies.

Mysterious backstories are fine. The backstory should still exist though, even if the character wants to keep it secret. And I'd expect them to supply some reason for being so paranoid.

Human Paragon 3
2010-04-28, 03:24 PM
don't you know, all adventurers are orphans with mysterious backstories that they will never reveal in order to protect themselves from their enemies.



I had a player once whose character had so many aliases that nobody knew his real name. The character knew, but the player never even bothered to make a real name up, just a huge list of aliases. I didn't know the character's real name, but one day, an npc DID.

"He calls you by your name. The real one you were born with."

That got the player's attention.

BRC
2010-04-28, 05:12 PM
don't you know, all adventurers are orphans with mysterious backstories that they will never reveal in order to protect themselves from their enemies.
I remember back when I frequented the WoW RP boards, there was one guy who posted the classic "Mysterious Past" backstory. When we responded that it needed more details, his response was along the lines of "How can I make a backstory for somebody nobody knows anything about?".

Which is a stupid response. It dosn't matter that your character dosn't tell his life story to everybody he meets, he still came from somewhere. He still had experiences before the game starts, and those still had some effect on him.

Of course, the other option is the Amnesia route, the ultimate choice for lazy players.

In my book, skipping out of a backstory by giving your character Amnesia is code for "The DM makes up a backstory for you and doesn't tell you", which leads to the DM saying things like "How do you know you never defiled the ancient tomb of the Mage-King Argus? You're character has amnesia remember."

WarKitty
2010-04-28, 05:50 PM
Interesting side discussion:

How do you keep multiple players engaged when they each want something different?

Depends on what they want. Try to combine things.

As a related question: What do different people want out of the game or find that their players want out of the game?

I've found that starting them out in a situation tends to work well for the first session or two - at least in terms of providing character motivation. E.g. you have all been convicted of some sort of crime. The king has offered to pardon you in exchange for returning a powerful artifact to him. As a bonus you may keep any treasure you find on the way. (If they complain about not committing any crimes, just make it clear that the political structure is rather corrupt and willing to convict someone for political ends - such as retrieving powerful artifacts.)

Kaun
2010-04-28, 05:53 PM
+1 to player writen back stories and NPC's.

I also find that a good BBEG is key to keeping players interested.

If you can get players to hate your BBEG they will go after any hook with even the smallest hint of them like blood hounds.

Good tricks for this is having the BBEG make his first apperance in the game when the players are still well too low powered to beat him/her/it.

Make your BBEG overly arrogant, cocky and self assured. Have (him) outsmart them once or twice in ways that arn't apparent right away, also having (him) defeat the pc's once or twice and rub it in their faces helps too. Once your PC's are frothing for (his) blood keeping them involved in the story is easy.

Private-Prinny
2010-04-28, 06:08 PM
I also find that a good BBEG is key to keeping players interested.

If you can get players to hate your BBEG they will go after any hook with even the smallest hint of them like blood hounds.

Good tricks for this is having the BBEG make his first apperance in the game when the players are still well too low powered to beat him/her/it.

Make your BBEG overly arrogant, cocky and self assured. Have (him) outsmart them once or twice in ways that arn't apparent right away, also having (him) defeat the pc's once or twice and rub it in their faces helps too. Once your PC's are frothing for (his) blood keeping them involved in the story is easy.

+1 to this. I always start by statting out the BBEG.

Magic Myrmidon
2010-04-28, 06:09 PM
Also, with the BBEG, maybe just start the campaign with some things unrelated to the main story. Make them get to know and love the city, or people in the city. Then, when they get to know them... the BBEG ruins it. Then they want revenge.

That can work sometimes.

TheThan
2010-04-28, 06:37 PM
Think you guys need to check your sarcasm meters, they may need adjustments.

Seriously speaking though, Iíve come across the whole ďmysteriousĒ loner thatís an orphan and there is no one important in his life far too often for my taste.

I think this stems from players that focus too much on their character sheets. They start viewing their character as nothing more than stats and abilities and they forget their character is a living breathing person with a (potentially) rich history and background. So when asked to produce a background they take an easy copout and go ďamnesiaĒ or some such.

gdiddy
2010-04-28, 06:56 PM
The mysterious orphan loner munchkin PC amnesiac.

And his arch nemesis, the boring NPC who will not shut up, because the DM constructed four generations of backstory.

When they mate, they make the DMPC, who is so awesome that the players will have be riveted.

WarKitty
2010-04-28, 07:18 PM
Honestly, it sounds like you all are only planning for a single type of character. The key is to give the players what they want.

If the players want to kill things and gain power? Give them fights that challenge them and decent treasure drops, and don't worry too much about RP.

If they like to roleplay? Encourage them to write backstories and try to work them into the campaign, and go a bit easier on combat or make "trick" monsters that they have to figure out.

If you have both? This can be a challenge. Let the kill-things people play the silent orphan if they want but get them to write out a basic personality. Encourage the roleplayers to rp a character who's interested in optimizing him or her self. Try to keep a mix of combat and rp opportunities.

Kaun
2010-04-28, 07:32 PM
The key is to give the players what they want.

Out of interest (Note Warkitty this isn't directed directly back at you, your post just made me think about it.)

Why is it so often the DM giving the players what they want rather then the players playing what the DM wants?

I mean at the end of the day the DM generaly speaking puts a lot more work into the game then the players combined ever will.

gdiddy
2010-04-28, 07:32 PM
I'd rather just not DM for the silent orphan wish-fulfillment-vehicle. Especially if he won't appreciate anything I make any more than a good WoW boss fight. When my games is not combat, he'll have to roleplay like everyone else. I just won't cater to that kind of player.

Maybe I'm spoiled with a lot of good players, but yeah. If people aren't having fun together, they shouldn't play. Doesn't mean make drama or that anyone is failing, not everyone belongs in every game. I would be bored to tears in a dungeon crawl, so I won't play.

Now, if a player engages in roleplay and is advancing their story and tell me OoC that they'd like more combat, they'll get it. But help me to help you. Be a mature player, tell me if you're not having fun. I am not your psychologist, we're adults playing pretend together. (We probably both need more therapy than easily affordable.)

TheMadLinguist
2010-04-28, 07:54 PM
Think you guys need to check your sarcasm meters, they may need adjustments.

Seriously speaking though, Iíve come across the whole ďmysteriousĒ loner thatís an orphan and there is no one important in his life far too often for my taste.

I think this stems from players that focus too much on their character sheets. They start viewing their character as nothing more than stats and abilities and they forget their character is a living breathing person with a (potentially) rich history and background. So when asked to produce a background they take an easy copout and go ďamnesiaĒ or some such.

Or maybe they're tired of the DM killing off anyone they're attached to whenever they put any significant backstory in place, and decided that if all their friends are going to die off anyway, might as well have them dead to begin with.

WarKitty
2010-04-28, 08:21 PM
Out of interest (Note Warkitty this isn't directed directly back at you, your post just made me think about it.)

Why is it so often the DM giving the players what they want rather then the players playing what the DM wants?

I mean at the end of the day the DM generaly speaking puts a lot more work into the game then the players combined ever will.

Good question. Honestly, if the DM and the players don't want roughly the same thing, you're probably better off having someone else DM/finding new players.

It just bugs me the way some people talk. I have one character that is pretty much about getting as much power as I can. And it's a lot of fun seeing what you can flambe. My fellow players like to rp more. I try to work with them, but I do have the somewhat typical taciturn character with few strong ties anywhere. It gives me something I can work with without being dragged into heavy rp where I really don't feel comfortable.

Kaun
2010-04-28, 08:29 PM
Good question. Honestly, if the DM and the players don't want roughly the same thing, you're probably better off having someone else DM/finding new players.

It just bugs me the way some people talk. I have one character that is pretty much about getting as much power as I can. And it's a lot of fun seeing what you can flambe. My fellow players like to rp more. I try to work with them, but I do have the somewhat typical taciturn character with few strong ties anywhere. It gives me something I can work with without being dragged into heavy rp where I really don't feel comfortable.

I have a few players that sound similar to you and i am fine with them. They tend to keep their input into the RP lite but they dont stop the fanatic RPer from having their fun too. I Just make sure they get some combat every session to keep them happy.

But if i had my players say, "Screw this rp crap we just want to kill stuff and get the loot!" i would be quite happy to stand aside and let them find another DM. For no other reason as that sounds bloody borring to DM and much more like hard work.

Knaight
2010-04-28, 08:31 PM
I don't know, even in games where they mostly stay alive, that still shows up. Of course, most of my players are refugees from a Kill Em' All style GM or 3, so that might explain it.

TheThan
2010-04-28, 08:52 PM
Think you guys need to check your sarcasm meters, they may need adjustments.

Seriously speaking though, Iíve come across the whole ďmysteriousĒ loner thatís an orphan and there is no one important in his life far too often for my taste.

I think this stems from players that focus too much on their character sheets. They start viewing their character as nothing more than stats and abilities and they forget their character is a living breathing person with a (potentially) rich history and background. So when asked to produce a background they take an easy copout and go ďamnesiaĒ or some such.

Anyway I think itís a good idea to introduce new players to the concepts of roleplaying before even letting them touch dice, that way they donít fall into the same sort of trap the rest of us have.

The Big Dice
2010-04-28, 09:02 PM
I'm not a "storyteller" type GM. In fact, I hate that paradigm. If you want to tell a story, go write a book already! That said, I do think plot and incident are very important driving forces for an RPG. Most of my players are happy to hit things and take their stuff for the most part. But I like to subvert their preferences a little from time to time.

Things like after they defeat the minions of the BBEG's henchman, the henchman might try to cut a deal rather than the usual fight-or-flight response. This keeps the players off balance a little, as what seemed to be a climactic combat suddenly turns into a roleplay heavy scene. I think of this as giving them what they want, just not in the way they expect it.

Another thing I like to do to keep people interested is the bait and switch. An obvious one is sending them off to do some great deed when they get attacked by a werewolf near what they thought was simply going to be a rest stop village. Except investigating the village turns up nothing, nobody will say anything about the werewolf. Until the next night, which just happens to be a full moon and the players find out that everyone in the village is a lycanthrope.

That last one is another thing you can use to keep people interested, and keep monsters as more than just a source of XP. Turn the event into a moral dilemma. Once they find out the whole village is a nest of lycanthropes, what do they do? Wipe the place out including the women and children, Mannequin Skywalker-style? Run? Try and hide for the night and find out what is going on the next day, when they can talk to people instead of having wolfmen try to rip their faces off? Let the players decide.

My style tends to be a bit more comic book, in that I don't always know how I'm going to resolve a situation until I sit down to plan a session. Sometimes I might use a beat chart to plan out roughly the direction things are going in, especially if I've got a particular scene in mind. Other times I'll let the actions of the players over the last few sessions guide the way. And sometimes the players might give me an idea mid session. They see something complex in a situation I thought was simple, but their idea was better than mine. And so my flight plan goes out the window.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to giving the players a sense that they are in control, but that the world around them responds to what they do.

Human Paragon 3
2010-04-28, 09:07 PM
Wow, super delayed double post.

Kaun
2010-04-28, 09:10 PM
Wow, super delayed double post.

Yeah i think they just changed something in the Matrix!

Superglucose
2010-04-28, 09:25 PM
One of the major, MAJOR ways of keeping this is letting PCs survive. Find excuses to let them go and come back with better defenses. There is nothing more frustrating to a group of players than having to come up with reasons why people would continue with everyone dropping like flies around them.

Private-Prinny
2010-04-28, 09:29 PM
One of the major, MAJOR ways of keeping this is letting PCs survive. Find excuses to let them go and come back with better defenses. There is nothing more frustrating to a group of players than having to come up with reasons why people would continue with everyone dropping like flies around them.

This, while good in theory, can not be followed all of the time. If PCs can't die, then there's no sense of danger, no thrill left in the combat. If the DM has a Deus ex Machina up his sleeve for every boss fight, then the PCs become spectators in their own game. Once you get to a high enough level to be casting Resurrection, PC death is fair game.

Besides, the death of an established character can be a plot hook in and of itself. :smallbiggrin:

Superglucose
2010-04-28, 09:37 PM
I never said PCs should be immortal. I said, "If it is reasonable to let the PCs escape, let them escape." Yes, your pursuers decide you're not worth chasing after for whatever reason, or they accidentally lose the trail, or whatever. No, they don't magically let you just walk out the front door without trying to stop you.

Human Paragon 3
2010-04-29, 08:27 AM
In my experience, killing a PC can sometimes have a positive effect on the game if done properly. The remaining players tend to seek revenge and honor the fallen in song and story. IF you do it right.

If it's some random battle where an Orc criticals on a low HP player, that's usually not fun. But the most hated and feared BBEGs tend to be the most deadly ones, too.

gdiddy
2010-04-29, 09:33 AM
Agreed. Deaths should mean something.

valadil
2010-04-29, 09:44 AM
Why is it so often the DM giving the players what they want rather then the players playing what the DM wants?

I mean at the end of the day the DM generaly speaking puts a lot more work into the game then the players combined ever will.

The GM should be running the game they want to run. But within that game, the GM should try to focus on what the players like. One of my PCs is having trouble getting attached to the main plot. I'm currently trying to unearth one of the subplots and make it into a bigger deal than it was meant to be. This is still the game I want to run, just a different region of it than I expected to be running. If the players told me to do away with all that plotty nonsense and just run combats, I'd stop playing with them. It's important for the GM to know what kind of game he is offering and to make it clear to the players what they're getting into.


I'm not a "storyteller" type GM. In fact, I hate that paradigm. If you want to tell a story, go write a book already!


While they have their similarities, writing a book and GMing a game are very different activities. I tried writing a book instead a couple years ago and hated it. I had too much control. All the characters did what I told them to do. It got boring.

When I GM I have no control over the main characters. They'll go off in all sorts of directions and solve problems in ways I never could have predicted. It keeps me on my toes and forces me to improvise in ways writing a novel never could.

But I think there are different types of storyteller GMs. Some of them focus on the telling part. Their PCs are more of an audience than active participants. I aim for more of a collaborative story building type of game.

WarKitty
2010-04-29, 10:01 AM
And then there's those of us who live for the "You just did WHAT?" moments from the GM. Like taking over the town that we were supposed to be rescuing.

BRC
2010-04-29, 10:11 AM
And then there's those of us who live for the "You just did WHAT?" moments from the GM. Like taking over the town that we were supposed to be rescuing.
My PC's once conquered a city with Third-wave feminism...

It's a long story.


The point is, DnD is about creating a story together. The DM is the guiding force in creating that story, but the players are the driving force, which is where the "Storyteller" type DM comes in, he attempts to be both the driving and the guiding force. Players want to star in an epic story just as much as you want to tell one, the goal of a DM is to create a situation where the players can forge an epic story of their own accord.

Superglucose
2010-04-29, 10:18 AM
In my experience, killing a PC can sometimes have a positive effect on the game if done properly. The remaining players tend to seek revenge and honor the fallen in song and story. IF you do it right.

If it's some random battle where an Orc criticals on a low HP player, that's usually not fun. But the most hated and feared BBEGs tend to be the most deadly ones, too.
Yeah, but if characters keep dropping so fast it's hard to get a good story going between the party, you have problems.

Indon
2010-04-29, 10:24 AM
I feel that the easiest way to engage a player is to expand their horizons.

The key here is to stimulate the players by introducing new ideas, or new takes on old ideas, and then allow the players to interact freely with what you introduce.

For instance, the party encounters a group of dinosaurs, that they beat up. The party druid studies the dinosaurs so he can shapechange into them; nifty. Then one of them decides to go track them to their nest so that they can nurse and raise any eggs in the den - so before long the party is raising pet dinosaurs.

This may sound bad, but this is how you engage players. If you shut down the players, you're saying, "No, you can't play around, stick to the script!" and it's for that reason that I vastly prefer working the campaign closely around the players' actions.

Human Paragon 3
2010-04-29, 10:24 AM
Oh, yeah. If characters are dying every session something is WRONG. You are doing it wrong, or they are doing it wrong.

Unless you're running Tomb of Horrors or something, and the players show up with extra characters because you guys like playing lemmings.

Character death should be kept to a minimum, and avoided whenever possible. I feel terrible when a character dies, like I actually killed him. But I don't pull punches. When the players are going up against bad guys who want to kill them, who are motivated to kill them, who are terrible people and hold a grudge, who make it personal or are just plain insane and like killing... well, I have them try to kill the PCs as best as they can.

Luckily, I don't usually succeed.

EDIT: Relating it to the topic at hand: when the players feel like they are in danger of dying, they are engaged!

Ormagoden
2010-04-29, 10:47 AM
Some of my tools of the trade are as follows.

Cater to your audience:
Especially when starting a new group feeling out what your players like (anime, comics, novels, wargaming, ect, ect) helps you custom tailor fun for them. Someone loves action movies and playing halo? You know their going to want some kick in the door style sessions. Someone else loves CSI and the watchmen, well some gritty murder scenes with morally gray motives might be in order. So its important to get a feel for your players and cater to them. Which leads me to

Custom tailored NPCs: Characters love to interact with NPCs The good, the bad, and the ugly. You should custom tailor your NPCs! If your running a mod from a book and the story calls for a standard orc warrior villain TOSS HIM! Make your villain a Kobold headhunter who just so happens to hunt halflings for sport to enrage the halfling bard. Make that non-descript town smith an old retired warrior who can instruct the party in sword play should they just so happen to prove themselves. The town elder could be a distant relative in desperate need of help, instead of an old codger that won't leave his house when the ronin attack.

MYSTERY!: Mystery is REALLY important. Now you might say what you mean "murder she wrote?" No, not that. A deus ex-machina figure in the dark fires a crossbow bolt that just manages to save a character from getting 10d6 sneak attack. They vanish as quickly as they appear. A far off island destination with very few details but loads of rumors. A dark hole sitting quietly off to the side of some main destination waiting to be searched another time.

Combat! (or the mortal kind): When it boils down to it nothing is more satisfying than putting a sword through the bad guy's chest or burning him to a crisp (am I right?) Combat is fun! and it needs to be fun and challenging! Shake it up, make combat hard if you think your group can handle it. Add an extra monster or npc enemy. Make your enemies unique and challenging. Duskblades are my favorite way to shake things up, nothing makes player's more nervous than some guy with a greatsword charging at them and the greatsword suddenly bursting with electricity. Combat should be satisfying too! If you don't plan on providing physical loot forward the plot with your now vanquished minions. A note detailing payment for services rendered signed only with the letter R will surely make the PC's feel they've uncovered even more fun. Try to avoid over optimizing enemies (IE no mindflayer monks)

Take a break!: Every four hours take a break! Its IMPORTANT! Stretch your legs, get some water, get your food order together, or just snack on something light. Breaks are important for a few reasons. Your body needs water and food, take care of your body! Its a good time for a bathroom break if you've been holding. It lets your mind relax and freshen up it also relieves stress should a situation in game be rather intense. It gives the players a chance to talk "Oh man can you belive the mayor betrayed us!", "What are we going to do now!? we let the princess get killed.", "We opened the door with the big eye on it, how are we going to proceed from here?", "Dude that elf chick is sooo hot." It's important to get some out of game plans ready sometimes. This gives your players a chance to do that. It also gives you a chance to stat up that barbarian/crusader water orc with the great falchion you've been thinking about.

I think I covered some of it! thoughts?

Superglucose
2010-04-29, 10:54 AM
EDIT: Relating it to the topic at hand: when the players feel like they are in danger of dying, they are engaged!
Corollary: When the players feel like at least one of them is re-rolling a character every week, they don't get connected to their characters, don't spend time on a backstory, and are NOT engaged.

Human Paragon 3
2010-04-29, 12:18 PM
Yes, I think we are both agreed on that point. As I said, character deaths should be used sparingly, but that doesn't mean the players can't feel as though their characters are in danger.

I think character death would make a good topic for next week's thread, though. I don't want to discourage conversation, but I think maybe we should pick up discussion on this topic then.

(Interestingly, as the "DM" of this thread, I need to balance guiding the discussion and keeping it on track against making the "party members" discuss only what I want to talk about.)

BRC
2010-04-29, 12:30 PM
My philosophy concerning designing encounters is Interesting>Challenging.
DnD works best with the following setup: The PC's enter a featureless room. In the room is a Monster, they fight to the death.
And that can be fun, but merely making numbers bigger won't make your encounter any more fun. You need to get away from that format.

One thing I did was get away from the CR system in terms of calculating treasure and XP. I simply determined how many adventures until the PC's leveled up, how much treasure they were supposed to gain that level, and divided the second number by the first. This meant that I could pretty much cut loose with the encounter. That adventure saw the PC's tearing through a Vampire's mansion, dusting spawn left and right, I didn't even calculate how many spawn, I just threw a couple in whenever it seemed interesting.

Another time, when I was testing some Western rules I made, the adventure ended with the player playtesting my Gunslinger (Modified Ranger) vs the main villain, a necropolitan gunslinger, on a bridge over a rushing river. I said "Alright, Dramatic Situation rules are in effect. Whomever wins initative gets a +5 bonus on their first attack, if they hit, they deal max damage".
The PC gunslinger wins and hits, the enemy was undead, so no crit damage, but he fires back and misses. The Player then says "I'm going to kick him off the bridge", I have him make a straight grapple check, he wins, and kicks the bad guy off the bridge, I decide the bad guy takes 3d6 damage.

The villain survives with exactly one hit point remaining.

Well that post got away from me, back to my thesis: Interesting>Challenging.

The CR system goes rather easy on the PC's with what it calls a "Challenging" or "Balanced" encounter most of the time, so feel free to skew things a little bit. One of my favorite things to do is have a slow-moving enemy the PC's can't hope to beat, and lots of mooks trying to slow the PC's up.

Human Paragon 3
2010-04-30, 08:46 AM
Has anyone ever noticed a player's (or multiple players) interests slipping away mid-game and taken immediate action to remedy?

I'm sure I have, but I can't remember a concrete example.

Indon
2010-04-30, 09:04 AM
Has anyone ever noticed a player's (or multiple players) interests slipping away mid-game and taken immediate action to remedy?

I'm sure I have, but I can't remember a concrete example.

I've seen that. Generally, what it means is that I need to be running combat faster and more smoothly, because it's taking forever for someone's turn to come up.

Though, just fast and smooth combat doesn't make it engaging, it just keeps it from being disengagingly boring. Vivid descriptions really help to keep combat interesting in my experience.

Human Paragon 3
2010-04-30, 09:25 AM
Ah, yes. I have seen this, too. This can come back to combat encounter design as well. Sometimes DMs don't think about what an encounter will be like when it's actually run. Having a swarm of bad guys sounds cool in theory until you realize you need to roll for each attack and track HP and status changes individually. This gets even worse if creatures have fast healing and multiple attacks or attack modes. All that die rolling is booooring.

You can do your best to streamline things, but then you lose a lot of the meat. Enemies move haphazardly instead of tactically, use the wrong attack modes or just default to one action which is repeated again and again. Now your encounter is moving along, but it's even more boring than before.

The best strategy is to really think about your encounters in the design phase. Barring that, have some way to end an encounter mid battle instead of forcing your players to duke it out to the very end. Having a few methods in your back pocket at all times is recommended. You can also save PCs from their own stupidity and bad luck with the same list of opt outs!

BadJuJu
2010-04-30, 11:08 AM
The best player engagement advice I can offer is to request backstory from them. The more the better. Then use that backstory. When a player writes an NPC, they're giving you a free plot hook that they've already bitten into. Why write your own NPCs when you can instead fill the world with player created characters? Less work for you and more fun for players.

I like this. I have had DM's who require in depth back stories, and never use any part of them. It gets annoying.

valadil
2010-04-30, 11:30 AM
Has anyone ever noticed a player's (or multiple players) interests slipping away mid-game and taken immediate action to remedy?

I'm sure I have, but I can't remember a concrete example.

Sure have. I was much more proactive about this in the last game I ran than in my current one. The last game used Game of Thrones d20. The players mostly worked together but had their own sets of contacts. And they stayed in place, rarely ever leaving the castle.

Each session I'd come up with several new tidbits of information to hand out. Each of those was tagged with the name of the character who would receive them. I tried to make sure that everybody would get one of them in a session. None of these were given out in any specific order - they were distributed as needed if I saw that certain players needed entertainment. If the Maester was nodding off, a messenger raven arrived. That player got to digest the new information and then bring it to the party's attention or not. AGoT was very conducive to this type of message passing.

I haven't quite gotten it to work in my 4e game. There are less personal messages and more messages that are addressed to the group. And the group is mobile, so I have to come up with new excuses explaining how people found them. I can usually get a plot advancement for one or two characters each session, but the way the game is progressing it's nearly impossible to have something in my back pocket for everyone. (Although if some of my players wrote more backstory this would be less of an issue...)

Human Paragon 3
2010-04-30, 12:29 PM
You could have a ritual caster contact them with long distance communication spells, or visit them in their dreams.

It might build up some tension if every "night" in game you singled out one or two players and RPd out a dream conversation, in secret from the other players.

Superglucose
2010-04-30, 12:37 PM
Has anyone ever noticed a player's (or multiple players) interests slipping away mid-game and taken immediate action to remedy?
The difficulty is in making this seem natural. Honestly, IMO, the worst way of doing this is "And suddenly [xyz] appears! Roll initiative!" I think the best way to do this is, "Alright, let's get back to what's going on."

Or if it's a situation in which one character seems out of the loop, the dialogue can go, "Well, Mr. [xyz], you've been silent on this issue. Care to share your thoughts?"

I would point out that you will see one or two player's interest slide when, say, the Rogue, Paladin, Sorcerer and Druid are trying to negotiate the Paladin's release from prison and the Wizard and Cleric aren't a part of that conversation at all. I would say, don't worry about that. As long as the "bored" players aren't being distruptive, let them have a conversation with each other for the next ten, fifteen minutes, or roleplay on their own via notecards. It especially helps if you have a forum for online roleplay because they can post it later.

It breaks a bit of versmilitude for everyone to have to be present at every conversation.

TheThan
2010-04-30, 01:29 PM
The mysterious orphan loner munchkin PC amnesiac.

And his arch nemesis, the boring NPC who will not shut up, because the DM constructed four generations of backstory.

When they mate, they make the DMPC, who is so awesome that the players will have be riveted.

Jaded much?

Seriously though, itís part of the DMís job to keep his players interested in the goings on of the game. I feel that communication is key to this. A dm should ask his players what sort of game they are interested in playing, whether thatís a hack and slash dungeon crawl or a game of political intrigue with no battles. He should constantly be seeking feedback, as long as the players respond (even negatively) then he knows theyíre paying attention (or at least trying to). Since the Dm is in charge of making sure everyone is having fun, he should be trying to reach a compromise between what all his players want, and what he wants.

I feel a lot of DMs spend so much time world building that they forget that last bit and try to run their story with other peopleís characters (hence heavy handed and railroading DMs). I view RPGS something like a play. The Dm is the director and directs the players down a general path (aka quests or story), while the players are the actors in the story the Dm is trying to tell. You canít really tell a story without characters, and characters canít exist without a storyteller. Itís a collaborative effort on everyoneís part.

Another thing that I notice is that a lot of DMs are very much rules lawyers, and as a result they focus on making sure everything is ran perfectly. I say donít be a rules lawyer unless you have to. The rules should be as lax or as tight as you need them to be to make the game run smoothly. For instance if your running a bunch of people that are interested in the rule of cool then youíre going to need the rules to be lax enough to grant them the ability to do cool things. Inversely, if the group or a bunch of ubernerds, that want the game to be perfectly raw, then your going to need to have the rules down solidly.

Human Paragon 3
2010-05-03, 11:11 AM
Let's say you have a good group of players who are willing to run with you on things and stay with you while your plot kicks into gear. They are veterans who know the tropes and are willing to go along with the plot whether or not they're interested in it.

But you notice that this is exactly what they're doing: going along with the plot even though they aren't totally engaged. How do you kick it up a notch? Raising the stakes? Making it personal? Introducing a rampaging godzilla like monster?

And what are the warning signs that it's time to seriously consider revamping your plot?

TheThan
2010-05-03, 12:15 PM
Let's say you have a good group of players who are willing to run with you on things and stay with you while your plot kicks into gear. They are veterans who know the tropes and are willing to go along with the plot whether or not they're interested in it.

But you notice that this is exactly what they're doing: going along with the plot even though they aren't totally engaged. How do you kick it up a notch? Raising the stakes? Making it personal? Introducing a rampaging godzilla like monster?

And what are the warning signs that it's time to seriously consider revamping your plot?

Do something to the playersí characters on a personal level.

For instance one game we had hired some npcs to help us out. The bastards stole our stuff and fled. We didnít find out about it until it was too late and they were long gone. We were pissed and vowed vengeance. No player likes getting his WBL screwed and it made us want to get these guys. It also created a new story arch for us to run through, though we didnít realize it at the time.

Endarire
2010-06-19, 02:10 AM
In all heroic stories, there must be a fantastic element. I learned by running a d20 Modern game that focused on the day-to-day efforts of space station security officers. That game ended quickly because there was more novel than game. As DM, I felt bored that all my NPCs had to be human for things to be logical.